Jacob Lew, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Timothy Geithner as secretary of the Treasury, has spent most of his working life in government service. As a young man, he served under Democrats (including Tip O’Neill) in the U.S. House. He held several posts under President Bill Clinton.
But in between his years with the Clinton administration and his return to government work under Obama (in the State Department, as budget director, and recently as White House chief of staff), he worked briefly for Citigroup and was there when Citi received one of the largest of the bailout packages. Shortly before the bailout, Lew received a bonus of $940,000.
Sen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, has indicated that he will ask Lew about the bonus during the confirmation hearings. Jia Lynn Yang of the Washington Post reviewed Lew’s Citi tenure here.
I suppose it’s necessry to acknowledge that in the top reaches of banking, $940,000 isn’t even a very big number. Still, it’s difficult for those of us — which I mean 99.9 percent of us — who would never be in a position to receive a million-dollar bonus to think clearly or realistically about either what we could do that would be worth that to our employer, what such a windfall would do to our ability to retain contact with the economic struggles of ordinary working families, or what kind of loyalty such a bonus might buy into the future toward the employer or the industry or the class from which it was bestowed.